It was an amazing and reassuring week as law enforcement agencies from North Tonawanda to California and Oklahoma put to bed murder cases that had stumped investigators for up to 42 years. With their determined, unflagging commitments, police in those areas made good on their obligation to seek justice for those who cannot speak for themselves.
All those arrested, it should be noted, deserve the same presumption of innocence that belongs to all criminal suspects. This is about the diligence of investigators, not the final judgment on their work.
In North Tonawanda, police on Wednesday arrested the man who was long their main suspect in the 1993 killing of 17-year-old Mandy Steingasser. While authorities said the circumstantial case against Joseph H. Belstadt was strong, until now they lacked forensic evidence, which they have not detailed. Belstadt, who was a classmate of Steingasser and is believed to be the last person to see her alive, has long insisted that he is innocent of the crime.
At least as shocking, police in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday arrested the man they believe is the Golden State Killer, a serial killer and rapist, who terrorized California communities in the 1970s and 80s. The man arrested based on DNA evidence is Joseph James DeAngelo, himself a former cop. He is 72.
And in Oklahoma last Sunday, police arrested a 66-year-old man in the 1999 murders of two high school girls. The suspect, Ronnie Busick, says he is innocent. Two other men believed to have been part of the murders have died.
Little troubles police more than unsolved murders. Those who investigated the North Tonawanda case over the years expressed relief and satisfaction at the arrest. So did Steingasser’s family and friends.
This is police work at its best. Murders should never be set aside, whether it is the death of an individual or the extermination of millions in World War II. It is important for killers to know when they go to bed that they may yet pay. These officers deserve their communities’ gratitude.